In case you happened to be one of the people who saw me sobbing at the finish line of the NYC marathon yesterday in waves of disappointment (I’m talking to you, concerned German finisher with the judgy eyes), you should know upfront that the day wasn’t all bad. Yes, I failed to match my marathon PR by more than 25 minutes. Yes, I had to walk during a race for the first time in my life. Yes, I spent the final miles of the course humming the tune to Adam Sandler’s Cure-inspired love song from 1998 comedy the Wedding Singer: “Oh somebody kill me please/somebody kill me please/ I’m on my knees/pretty, pretty please/kill me.” What can I say? I’m a romantic.
But dramatic end aside, the day also had its high points, and I’m not just talking about the elevation. From the unbridled enthusiasm of the Brooklyn spectators to the roar of the crowd as we pulled into Manhattan to the thousands of moments of encouragement from volunteers, police officers and bystanders alike, Nov. 1 was full of extraordinary moments. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the words of Maria von Trapp: Let’s start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start.)
6:00 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.: The morning began on a real positive note. Unlike on marathon mornings past, I woke up well rested and ready to take on the day. I got dressed, ate my customary peanut butter and banana sandwich and felt mentally and physically ready for the course ahead. I was confident as I walked to the subway, practically fist pumping with each step like I was in the final scene of a John Hughes movie. Nothing was going to stand in my way.
7:30-9:30 a.m.: … Except for public transit, that is. I arrived at the Staten Island ferry terminal at 7:15 a.m., and the doors were locked as they waited for the building to clear out the earlier runners. When they finally let us in, only a fraction of us made it onto the 7:45 a.m. ferry, and I was not one of them. Doing the math, I realized it was going to be tight making it into my corral before it closed at 9:40 a.m., so I made friends with another runner and we elbowed our way onto the 8 a.m. ferry, which, with bus delays, got me to the race start at 9:32 a.m. I literally hopped off the bus and ran to my corral with minutes to spare. Nothing like sprinting a mile right before starting a 26.2-mile road race to blow your confidence.
10:15 a.m.- 11:30 a.m.: Shortly after my transportation-induced anxiety subsided, Wave 2 began, and me with it. We climbed the always breathtaking Verrazano Bridge, and my pace felt good and steady. We entered Brooklyn, and the crowds were absolutely invigorating. Kids were high-fiving us, church ladies were waving their hats and spectators of all ages called out my name as I raced by. It was so exciting, I looked down at my watch and realized I was briefly running at a 6:30 pace. Whoops. In fact, I felt so good between miles 1 and 8 that I secretly decided to register for the Philly marathon in three weeks and see if I could successfully run it without telling anyone, just for fun. I felt on top of the world.
11:30-1 p.m.: Unfortunately, things started to go downhill shortly after that, and I’m not talking about the race course. As I exited Fort Greene, I found myself unable to catch a deep breath, and that frightening feeling of breathlessness stayed with me through the remainder of the course. I started shuffling before I even reached the Pulaski Bridge – the same spot where two years ago I felt so alive – and I knew the rest of the race wasn’t going to be pretty.
1 p.m.-1:15 p.m.: I did a lot of practice runs on the 59th Street Bridge this year, and unlike during my last race, it didn’t shatter me. I kept a steady (albeit slower than expected pace), entered Manhattan on a high note, and enjoyed barreling up First Avenue to a sea of familiar faces. After hours of suffering, seeing my friends and family was a welcome reprieve.
1:15 p.m. -2:30 p.m.: Have you ever seen the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs? That’s how I felt during the last 10 miles of my race. I hit the Willis Avenue Bridge and was so out of breath that I had to stop and walk. And once I let myself walk once, it was hard to talk myself out of doing it again and again throughout the Bronx and into Harlem. At this point, I knew there was no way I’d finish in under 4:00 hours, and every time a spectator called out my name, I felt embarrassed and ashamed at how despondent I’d become. Fortunately, my runner friend Leigh-Ann passed me right before we started the cruel 5th Ave incline, and we were able to commiserate together how tough the day had been. We stuck together for a mile or two, then she pulled ahead while I shuffled forward and into the final stretch.
2:36 p.m.: I crossed the finish line at 4:15:53, and – you guessed it – burst into tears. It wasn’t all sadness – some of it was relief, some of it was joy, some of it was my exhausted body no longer behaving in ways my brain had approved. I was proud of myself for finishing – there were a few moments there when I thought I might not – but I also felt so disappointed in myself for failing to hit my target time by such a wide margin. I collected my medal and snack bag and poncho, and then hightailed it out of the park so I could meet my family. What’s interesting is while all the other runners were hobbling along, I was walking more or less fine. My limiting factor during the race had been my lungs, not my legs, which felt like they still had some juice in them even after crossing the finish line. I sped-walked down to the Time Warner Center, where I met my people and, yet again, burst into tears. You know, because my dehydrated body wanted to be sure to use up EVERY LAST DROP. My family and I then made it back to the Upper East Side, where I put on a dry shirt, we ate greasy diner food, and I crawled into bed before 7:30 p.m.
So between all those ups and downs, was it ultimately a good day or a bad day? If I hear only the disappointed voice in my head, it was a bad day, but if I choose to listen to the hundreds of friends e-mailing and texting me their congratulations, I know that finishing a marathon at any pace is an accomplishment worth celebrating. And while I didn’t get the time goal I wanted, if I think about the day in a different light, I technically did achieve a new personal record in a sense: yesterday, I did my longest run EVER. Never before in my life have I run for 4 hours and 15 minutes straight, and while I hope to never do it again, you can’t say that isn’t a PR of sorts.
So there we have it, folks. I PRed yesterday in the NYC marathon, and I have the sore quads today to prove it. Yesterday, I also achieved something else very important to me: the clear affirmation that I will not be running a marathon in the 2016 calendar year. From the horse’s mouth: I am taking a season off this distance. See you all in the half marathon circuit!